In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Text: Luke 7:36-50
THESE ARE YOUR WORDS, HEAVENLY FATHER, SANCTIFY US BY YOUR TRUTH, YOUR WORD IS TRUTH. AMEN.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,
Here is a text that allows us to do whatever we want, to sin in whatever ways excite us, to live in whatever lifestyle we choose. After all, we know that even if we do this, even if we just keep acting and thinking and speaking without any regard to God’s Law, the nice Jesus is just going to say: "your sins are forgiven." Sadly, what I have just said is how shallowly some interpret this text and the love of Jesus. But such an interpretation fails to understand the nature of sin and the gift of forgiveness that Jesus gives.
Jesus is dealing with two sinners in this text. One is the Pharisee who invites Jesus to dinner. The other is the woman identified specifically as a sinner.
The Pharisee does not treat Jesus as a guest in his home. He has ignored some of the basic customs of his society when you invite someone to dinner. The Pharisee did not greet Jesus with the traditional kiss. He did not supply water for the washing of feet, nor did he anoint Jesus’ head with oil. Yet this Pharisee stands in judgment over both Jesus and the sinful woman. The sinful woman is judged because she truly is a sinner, someone with whom a good Pharisee would have nothing to do. Jesus is judged by the Pharisee because the Pharisee doesn’t understand who Jesus is or what He came to accomplish. He imagines that Jesus should not be in contact with sinners. He does not know that Jesus came not only to be in contact with sinners, but to become saturated with sin, taking it all on Himself. Jesus is being the Savior as He allows this woman to touch His feet as she washes them and dries them with her hair. He is showing His compassion for sinners. But the Pharisee does not understand. He does not understand because he does not know the profoundness of sin’s impact on himself.
Jesus treats the two sinners in this text differently. He does so because at this point, one of them needs the Law, and one of them needs the Gospel. The Pharisee needs to hear the Law because he is still secure in his own righteousness. He compares himself to the woman and uses her sinfulness to congratulate himself on his own virtue. So our Lord speaks to this man, Simon, in order to show him that he must not be so secure. He must see that his own lack of hospitality to Jesus is itself a sin, and that this sinful woman whom he despises is actually the better host. Jesus does not offer forgiveness to Simon at this time because Simon does not indicate that he knows his sin, nor is he ashamed of it, nor does he confess it.
Compare this to how Jesus treats the woman. She comes to him and is clearly overcome by her sin. She weeps at the feet of Jesus, acting as a lowly servant, as someone who does not deserve to eat with Jesus. It is not that she deserves forgiveness any more than Simon does. But she knows that she needs help. She has been made to realize that she herself is not pure or righteous or good. Jesus absolves her saying: "your sins are forgiven."
Jesus does not tell her it doesn’t matter how she lived. The very fact that He forgave her tells us that how she lived was wrong in the eyes of Jesus. He knew she was a sinner. He knew that her life was lived against the commands of God. Such a life was not condoned by Jesus, but forgiven. We must understand that such forgiveness is not cheap, but rather Jesus Himself knows the true cost; He knows what it takes for Him to say: "your sins are forgiven." He knows that the cross lies ahead of Him, the time of the great agony of His suffering and death. We dare not use the love of Jesus to presume that He thereby doesn’t care how we live. The sinful woman does not claim that her lifestyle is none of Jesus’ business. Instead she is ashamed of it, and comes to Jesus not in order to get His approval, but to receive the blessed forgiveness of her sin, her thoughts, words, and deeds that need changing.
Jesus uses a parable to teach Simon about forgiveness and gratitude. He said, "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" The sinful woman owes the 500, Simon owes the 50. Therefore the sinful woman shows greater love to Jesus, for He forgave her more. But Jesus is not saying that we can count up our sins to see how much forgiveness we need, and then determine how much to love Jesus. No. What Jesus wants Simon and you and me to understand is that all of us need forgiveness, that even if we think our sins small, we should still run to our Savior for forgiveness. But even more, we should realize that when we think our sins are small, we are really not understanding sin. We do not know God’s Law as we should if we think our sins are small. And we do not know the true nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross if we think that He went there for sins that don’t really matter.
God help us to know our sins. The point is not for us to be in a state of perpetual sadness because of them, but to know them so that we repent, confess them, and receive the forgiveness of our sins. That is what God wants you to receive. And He is not ashamed to eat with you, He is not ashamed to have you as His guest. He treats you as royalty, giving you the very best, His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
God grant that we all continue to learn our sin, not in comparison to others, but simply in comparison to what God says. And let us not be afraid to come to Jesus with whatever sins we have. He will not turn us away. He invites us to be with Him, now, through Word and Sacrament, and in eternity, with the everlasting life He gives. Amen.